College voucher proposal catches fire from Pitt and Penn State
A Westmoreland County lawmaker’s attack on the state’s financial relations with Pitt, Penn State, and Temple is met with backlash from powerful public research universities and their supporters.
State Representative Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield, says he has “ethical” issues with the Commonwealth spending around $ 580 million to support the three universities in a state where they compete with the 14 universities. public as well as dozens of private colleges and universities.
He would like to redirect the money from the three research universities to vouchers for students. Nelson’s proposal is light on the details, but he said that by redirecting the money to a voucher program, help could be provided to more than 124,000 low- and middle-income students.
It could be used to cover the costs of any college, university, community college, or business school in Pennsylvania.
Nelson insists it’s about choice, meeting the individual needs of students and enabling them to graduate with less debt and redirecting students to the needs of the workforce.
Pitt defends state support
Pitt officials, who have felt the sting of Nelson’s criticism in the past, say such a plan would be disastrous for the thousands of Pennsylvania residents who frequent Pitt. The university says it is using its state credit, which stood at nearly $ 155 million this year, to subsidize a $ 15,000-per-year tuition rebate for Pennsylvania residents attending the University. research center.
The basic tuition fee for residents of Pennsylvania is $ 19,092, compared to $ 34,124 for non-residents.
Senatorial Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, serves as a trustee of Pitt and Duquesne University as well as the Community College of Allegheny County. For Pennsylvania students, Costa said, Nelson’s proposal would be like trading a $ 15,000-per-year tuition rebate “for a few thousand dollars” of the voucher program.
“The math just doesn’t work,” Costa said. “It probably wouldn’t pass the Senate. “
Like Pitt, Temple, which is located in Philadelphia, and Penn State, say they are using their state credits to support reduced tuition fees for Pennsylvania residents.
Pitt responded to Nelson’s proposal during a hearing in Harrisburg last week before the House appropriations subcommittee on education. School officials have warned it will put tuition fees in the state at risk. The school also emailed more than 100,000 alumni urging them to contact their state’s lawmakers to support the university.
“Obviously, the students from Pennsylvania want to come to Pitt. We have a record number of applications and a record number of students from Pennsylvania this year, ”said Paul Supowitz, Pitt’s vice chancellor for government relations.
Scare schools, says Nelson
Nelson dismissed Pitt’s reaction as “an alarmist act intended to intimidate me and other lawmakers.”
“Pennsylvania just has too many places in our universities and not enough students to fill them,” Nelson said. “Our university graduates often have to leave to find jobs out of state while our employers clamor for workers with technical skills.
“This would allow students to use vouchers to attend community colleges and technical schools in two years, graduate in two years, and on day one, earn $ 50,000, $ 60,000 or even $ 70,000 a year.” , did he declare.
Nelson insisted that giving students choices would force public universities linked to the state of Pennsylvania to cap costs and tuition in order to compete with the state’s many private universities, community colleges and technical schools.
Penn State: $ 13,000 off in the state
Officials at Penn State, the Commonwealth’s largest public research university, also say state dollars are important to students at University Park and its extensive network of side campuses.
Provost Nick Jones said the state grant supports an average tuition reduction of $ 13,000 per year for state residents attending school. The basic tuition fee at University Park this year is $ 18,368 for residents of Pennsylvania and $ 35,946 for out-of-state residents.
“The absence of direct state ownership would be unprecedented and fundamentally change the nature of Penn State, leaving a funding gap of $ 242.1 million that could only be met through tuition fees, with significant potential impacts on the affordability of our low- and middle-income Pennsylvania students and their families, ”Jones said in an email.
Tuition fees at Pitt and Penn State are only a fraction of the tuition fees at Pennsylvania’s two private research universities – the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University. Tuition at Penn was $ 57,770 this year and $ 57,560 at CMU.
One of the highest tuition fees in the country
Even so, tuition and costs are a controversial issue with Pennsylvania lawmakers, who often have the highest public research university tuition fees in the country.
University leaders say this reflects the state’s status as the 48th or 49th in the nation for higher education funding. Many lawmakers, on the other hand, allege that schools have fattened themselves on public grants without considering the growing burden of tuition fees on families.
The already controversial issue is amplified by the requirement that grants to the three state-linked universities be voted on separately from the general state budget and approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislature.
Sometimes this results in the voting being held hostage as lawmakers negotiate particular issues, some of which have nothing to do with higher education and others directly with universities.
In the early 2000s, the vote was delayed as lawmakers debated gambling laws.
As recently as last summer, Nelson, a conservative Republican who questioned Pitt’s research on stem cell lines, joined lawmakers representing struggling public schools and a group who wanted a vote on elders child sex abuse lawsuit in threat to suspend funding from Pitt, Penn State and Temple.
Pitt officials said they voluntarily agreed to a third-party review of their research in an attempt to answer Nelson’s questions and reduce what he called misinformation.
Nelson: a question of fairness
Nelson insists his research concerns have nothing to do with his voucher proposal. It’s just a matter of fairness, he said.
“That way, students have the choice between a school of technology, a community college, and four-year public or private universities,” Nelson said. “They’ll hold the check and say, I want to apply it to this institution. It will pay more for that money.